How Do You Build A Making Culture Within Your School?

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By: Lesley Robertson & Ryan Matthews


How do you build a making culture within your school? This was the question we were left to ponder after a year in our brand new makerspace. We felt that the space was ready. We had stocked the shelves with everything from cardboard to hot glue sticks and we had purchased the tools to program, cut, build and break. We had even rearranged the physical space to invite creation…. BUT we were missing a crucial piece, the MAKERS.


Over the course of a year, we introduced students to a variety of coding and making tools such as Makey Makey, Make-Do, Green Screen, iStopmotion, STEM challenges and EV3’s. Students were provided with the opportunity to explore the design thinking process and were encouraged to fail and reflect on their learning. We felt like we had followed the steps to setup a successful makerspace, but we were disappointed with the amount of time the space was actually being used.


After a summer of reflection, we came into the new school year with a clearer focus. We wanted more makers. Still pondering our problem, it wasn’t until a well-timed tweet that we found our inspiration. A class somewhere in the world had built a mini-city, we immediately saw the potential that such a project could have on our making culture. Once we had this source for inspiration, ideas flowed and connections to curriculum-across multiple grades-became apparent.


With our renewed focus, we began to ask ourselves many questions about how we could set this city build into motion and ensure we were not only inspiring our makers, but being inclusive in our approach.


  • How would we include multiple classes and grade levels?
  • How big should this city be?
  • What direction would this take us?


After much discussion, we decided to begin with a team of motivated makers to lead the project. We realized quickly that we would need help from our community and with a maker ideology in mind, we reached out to experts. After some searching, we were able to connect with an Urban Planner, all thanks to our professional learning network (thank you @bogiemomof2).





photos of students in class drawing up plansNicholas Bogaert graciously agreed to meet with our small group of leaders and together we learned about how to lay out a city. We learned about zoning and used this knowledge to create a scale and map out our city (see image at right).


Next, we reached out to classes to build our houses, lay out our roads, landscape the surface with a river, mountains and green space. Our group leaders created a monument to mark the center of the city and serve as a focal point. Before long, colourful neighbourhoods started popping up and our city, that became known as “Makersville”, started to take shape.


Students visiting the Library Learning Commons were intrigued by what they saw in the Makerspace and started asking questions about how they could get involved. In order to give everyone a chance to share their input and voice, we created a Google Form for students to complete and share how they would like to contribute to Makersville.


students making in a classroomThough this form, we found our resident electricians. This group learned how to wire switches (see image left) to make our monument spin and build circuits to light up our skyscrapers. Makey Makeys were used to create interactive talking points coded in Scratch to inform visitors about the features of the city. A small group of Grade 7 engineers persevered through several cycles of the design process (see marker board image below) to build a fully functional hydraulic bridge. A landscaping crew populated the city with trees and added signature features including a dog park and golf course. A Grade 5 class studying Municipal Governments wrote Makersville specific by-laws to govern our future citizens. Finally our roads were coded for Ozobots to represent self driving vehicles navigating the city.


By the end of May, our city was complete. We celebrated our work with an opening ceremony, complete with ribbon cutting and chocolate cake. Little did we know, all the greatest learning was still yet to come. For the remaining weeks of the school year, classes came down to the Makerspace to visit and interact with the city. Students used Ozobots to investigate cardinal directions. They took pictures of their favourite features and documented their thinking with apps like Write About. The Green Screen was used to “place” students in the city like a scene from “Honey I Shrunk the Kids”. Even in the destruction of Makerville our small team found a way to create, through the production of a short film in the form of a mutant invasion newscast.



student maker plans on marker board

What did we learn?


At the start of this project we were hopeful to ignite a passion for making within our school community but what we observed was so much more. Students returned the following school year asking how they could be a part of another Makersville project.

So, what did this journey teach us about building a making culture? We learned the importance of...


Taking risks -- We are not electricians, skilled builders or urban planners but we have become very comfortable not being the experts in the room. We became facilitators and providers of opportunities. Which is why… Collaboration is key -- without the partnerships between colleagues, community members and students, none of this project would have been possible. We were also reminded of the importance of student voice - we need to find out what our students want to make as well as where their passions and curiosities lie. And most importantly we need to understand that MAKING IS A MINDSET NOT A SPACE. It is okay that our makerspace sits empty on occasion because on any given day if you were to walk through the halls of our school, you would see students engaged in a variety of making projects. They see themselves as makers, they know we value their ideas, creativity and questions and we are willing to provide them will a variety of opportunities to demonstrate their learning and explore their passions. After all... to quote Laura Fleming, author of Worlds of Making - If you build it they will come; if you let them build it they will learn.

Want to learn more about Makersville? Check out the project at:

Fleming, L. (2015) Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School. Corwin; 1 edition



Lesley Robertson is a Teacher Librarian with the Thames Valley District School board. She is passionate about Maker Education, STEM and the use of technology to enhance student learning. Lesley was recently recognized with an Award of Distinction for her work and phenomenal contributions to the school and board community. Connect with her on Twitter: @mountsfieldLC




Ryan Matthews is an Instructional Coach with the Thames Valley District School Board. He supports students and teachers with creating innovative and engaging lessons and is always willing to learn something new. Ryan’s passion for integrating STEM is contagious and his colleagues appreciate that he pushes their thinking to always consider real-world connections. Connect with Ryan on Twitter: @tvdsbmatthews